THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: We may have to reinvent governance!

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 16 July) – Whatever PNoy says in his State of the Nation Address on the 28th, no one can deny that things are getting too convoluted, such that our society now faces a crisis of faith and confidence.

The emergence of corruption cases and the stonewalling and evasion we see every which way is destroying people’s faith in government and confidence in leaders who are increasingly being viewed as misleaders.

We have no one to blame but ourselves, of course—and our neighbors!—for the terrible state of our nation; for we are supposed to be the quality control mechanism that ensures good governance.

But we allow bad governance to dominate multiple levels of our system, letting it spiral from the primary government of the barangay all the way up, spoiling and contaminating the whole system.

We are the stockholders of government, our society’s preeminent public corporation, and there is no way we can escape the blame.

No stockholder in his right mind would countenance the idea of having his corporation’s management team chosen by or recruited from undereducated sectors. Yet we not only entertain the idea, we let it happen routinely.

We have this notion, especially for local governments, that the management of this public corporation should be left to the poor and underprivileged, or better still, to the popular or glib grandstander, regardless of their background or competence.

It doesn’t occur to us that this is a prescription for bad, corrupt governance. Then we leave the selection of the corporate executives and board of directors (kagawads) of the community to the poor, undereducated, or underprivileged voters of the barangay. So of course they choose people like themselves; in turn, the people chosen become the ward leaders and grassroots campaigners of the big-time trapos with plunder and exploitation in mind.

Naturally, the corporate performance of the barangay or municipio or city or province does not benefit from the progressive ideas or experience of the major taxpayers and professionals in the neighborhoods.

It helps to keep in mind that only a minuscule fraction of the masses pay income taxes; they have little or no experience handling sensitive state matters, much less managing a large quantum of public resources.

The truant or drop-out attitude among the major taxpayers and the techno-savvy sectors partly springs from ignorance about the nature of the barangay. Specifically, they seem unaware that a) it has a full-fledged government, with police and taxing powers as well as power of eminent domain; b) it is a corporation with appurtenant powers; c) it is an economy—with land, labor and capital; and d) all higher officials all the way to Malacañang and Congress get there on the strength of barangay votes controlled by the barangay officials.

Most of our people are also unaware that the barangay enjoys revenues greater than most Philippine corporations—a lack of awareness that leaves local operations without supervision by its constituents, providing occasions for governance to be misused, abused, and subject to all sorts of temptation.

Thus it is not surprising that money and resources—with which to develop the community or to generate local livelihood— are dissipated by corruption or plain mismanagement.

Moreover, except for the practitioners of traditional politics—the trapos—no one considers the profound impact of the barangay’s political culture upon the entire political system. Few are aware of the implications of the small happenings in the barangay that become the big things in the nation. Consider:

Item A: Because all elections take place in barangay precincts, what determines the outcome of every election, national or local, are the knowledge, attitudes, and choices of the barangueños.

Item B: Because the educated classes are invisible in the barangay’s governing processes, they have no influence on the decisions or choices of their less educated neighbors—who happen to be the majority. So the ideas and values that ultimately dominate the larger society are those of the less educated in the barangay.

Item C: Because the elites don’t attend local meetings, let alone help plan local programs (as they should), they cannot share or impart their values and knowledge, let alone their informed analysis of the connection between competence and performance, depriving the masses of proper criteria in making their choices.

Bottom Line: The masses are stuck with patronage and popularity as their criteria for selecting leaders. Thus, it is understandable that they elevate even the patently incompetent, the utterly ignorant, or the thoroughly corrupt to the pedestals of power on all levels.

Consider their dominant criteria for choosing a leader, high or low: He must be “friendly, easy to approach, generous in exchanging a vote with money or favors, and quick to the draw with a hand-out.” They don’t know any better!

No one tells them that candidates are applicants for management positions—aspiring to be CEO or director of the community’s most important enterprise: its government. Lacking a sense of what it takes to manage a government, a corporation, or an economy—which are what a barangay, municipality, city, or province is, they make bad choices.

The complexity of managing the community’s or society’s resources – economic, social, cultural – is lost on them.

There’s need to reinvent their concept of governance!

[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director at Development Academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected]]